Judge Clark Douglas would love to see a Nickelodeon show voiced by NPR's on-air personalities.
Our reviews of Hey Arnold! Season 1 (published August 21st, 2011), Hey Arnold! Season 2, Part 1 (published April 21st, 2012), and Hey Arnold! The Movie (published January 21st, 2003) are also available.
"Hey, football head! C'mere!"
Arnold is a pretty ordinary kid. He's not the coolest kid in the school, nor is he the nerd of the classroom. He's just an ordinary guy. Oh, and his head is shaped like a football. His best pal is Gerald, another pretty ordinary kid with extremely tall hair. Arnold and Gerald, good old Arnold and Gerald…uh, yeah, that's really all there is to say about Arnold and Gerald. They get into all kinds of crazy situations together, good old Arnold and Gerald. Arnold's nemesis/love interest is Helga, a hot tempered girl who has a soft spot for "football head." Arnold lives with his wacky old grandma (who is your typical spunky old cartoon lady) and grandpa (who disturbingly is a spitting image of the old pedophile on Family Guy). Hey Arnold!: Season 1 presents our hero's first 38 adventures, in which a lot of things happen and no lessons are learned.
When the show aired, two new stories would be presented over the course of 30 minutes in most episodes. So, this set of 20 episodes actually offers up 38 stories. They are spread across four discs.
Hey Arnold! is a decent little show. It's not quite as charming as the Charlie Brown specials, not quite as educational as Arthur, and not quite as entertaining as the earlier seasons of Spongebob Squarepants, but it's a decent little show. The show's purpose is nothing more or less than to entertain elementary-school kids, and to that degree it works. There are some genuinely funny moments here, and a relatively low level of reliance on the sort of limp "comedy" ideas that support most cartoons you'll find on television today (wacky old people excluded).
The characters aren't exceptionally original or interesting. Arnold and Helga are basically thinly-veiled modern versions of Charlie Brown and Lucy (though Arnold is a little less depressed and Helga is a little nastier). Gerald is just kind of there. You can't help but get the sense that he's nothing more than a token minority character, as he's the only significant African-American character in the show. The fact that the characters don't make a big impression actually doesn't matter all that much, as Hey Arnold! really isn't about the characters. The characters are merely plot devices used to create a bunch of goofy and entertaining situations. The show will pluck some obscure idea out of thin air and find as many jokes related to the situation as it takes to fill eleven minutes. More often than not, the approach works.
A note for parents: the show has some strange elements hanging around the edges that you may deem a little inappropriate for some very young viewers. Though I have no doubt that kids will be entertained by Hey Arnold!, it often avoids positive messages to the point of unintentionally promoting bad behavior. Additionally, there are a few moments when it becomes a bit crass (there's a scene when we actually see bird crap coming out of a pigeon's butthole and landing on a girl's face).
Another note for everyone considering purchasing the show: the collection of this first season is really kind of unimpressive in terms of presentation. First of all, the shows are presented on DVD-R discs, which are manufactured by amazon.com when you purchase the set. The video quality is pretty crummy, with lots of scratches and grain present in a transfer that obviously didn't go to much trouble to clean things up. Sound is okay, though some of the music goes too loud and drowns out dialogue. To cap off a disappointing presentation, there are absolutely no supplements included. If you order the set, it will have to be because you really like the show. There is no additional incentive here.
All those complaints and cautions aside, I'm sure that grade-school kids are
going to like Hey Arnold!. It's a pleasant and engaging comedy show that
works quite well in small doses on those dull weekday afternoons. Though I'm
disappointed that it wasn't given a better DVD release, I'll begrudgingly
confirm that the show is not guilty.
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